If you spend as much time as I do at the Albuquerque Sunport, you’ve noticed the paintings, pottery, and other art pieces displayed in various hallways. I’ve always been curious about the story behind them, and was lucky enough to be given an art tour of the collection recently by one its buyers. Ruth Schultz is a dear friend who also served on the Albuquerque Arts board when it was asked to buy art for the new Sunport in 1987.
The committee had a total budget of $400,000, Ruth recalls—which was 1 percent of the construction cost. The plan was to have the airport art represent a kind of historical timeline, starting with “the land as it was” on the baggage claim level, then traditional Native American arts on the ticketing level, Hispanic art next, and then Western, contemporary, and arts and crafts farthest out. The plan also called for all art to be created by living artists who resided in New Mexico. Two of the nine board members were assigned to choose each type of art, leaving Ruth to focus on Native American art, an area of expertise.
It was an interesting challenge, Ruth recalls. In those days, Native American artists seldom listed themselves in the registry, a free data base of artists interested in public commissions. So she visited the pueblos herself to determine what to buy. In some cases, her choice was clear: pottery from Santa Clara Pueblo, for example. But in other cases, there were so many options, it was hard to narrow down. And Native artists didn’t keep an inventory of pieces on hand to show the committee; she had to bring photos of their past work to pitch her case.
I think it’s remarkable what she was able to do with a budget of $35,000. Ruth ended up commissioning 28 pieces, from paintings to pottery, sculpture, weavings, and jewelry. In many cases the artists sold their works at cost, just for the chance to be included. “Native American artists who never had the exposure, now had an opportunity to put their work before the public,” she explained.
In 2001 the airport had all its art appraised, and Ruth’s $35,000 investment in Native American art alone was valued at more than $120,000—and would surely be worth much more today. Ruth and the other board members created value for the city on many levels, volunteering their time and knowledge simply because “it was a worthwhile project,” as Ruth says.
In a future blog I’ll describe the art in more detail.